When editors asked me to write about the 50th anniversary of the passage of 18-year-olds being able to vote, it was partly because as a baby boomer I was the only person available who remembers it happening.
When Congress passed the 26th Amendment on March 23, 1971, I was 17. By the time it was ratified on July 1, I was 18. Along with registering for the draft, which was obligatory, I could register to vote.
In my mind, the two were inextricably linked. People who were old enough to be drafted or enlist – and some of my high school classmates did enlist that summer after graduation – were old enough to vote. Full stop. End of argument.
Registering for the draft was pretty simple. Go to the Selective Service office, fill out a form with name, address and birth date, and get a card in the mail in a few weeks. Mine said I was 1-H, a temporary classification until I had a physical after my number was drawn in the lottery. Under penalty of law I was to keep my draft card with me at all times. I still have it.
Registering to vote also was simple. I went to the city hall in the suburb where I lived, filled out a registration form and showed the nice lady behind the counter my driver’s license to prove my age. I had to show my birth certificate two years earlier to get my license, so that proved I was old enough.